E-Mail: Enemy of Productivity?

Has E-Mail turned into the enemy of Productivity?

That’s the argument put forth by Matthew Lynn of Bloomberg. His article this morning: E-Mail Has Turned Into the Enemy of Productivity identifies four ways email is sapping productivity gains:

“One, and most obviously, spam. So much has been written on the menace of unsolicited e-mail, it is not worth dwelling on here — except to say that spam is close to making e-mail boxes unworkable.

Two, security and privacy. Most viruses spread by e-mail, imposing huge costs as companies try to clear them out. Worse, e- mail leaves a permanent record of office gossip. None of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s investigations of Wall Street banks would have been possible without e-mail records.

Three, time-wasting. E-mail makes it very easy for people to spend their days in the office goofing around as they stare at a computer screen. But it also encourages bureaucracy. Managers send out long e-mails, hitting the “cc” button 100 times, when they could have solved the problem with a quick conversation. And the “forward” button is a tool of office politics. People are rarely productive when they are plotting against one another.

Four, e-mail encourages nastiness. Pornographic or racist material is passed around the office. Bosses bully and fire their staff electronically — in Britain, the insurance company Accident Group caused an outcry earlier this year by firing more than 2,000 workers by text message. One survey by the software company SurfControl Plc found a third of British workers preferred to deal with sensitive situations by e-mail rather than face-to-face or on the telephone.”

I can’t say I agree with that; The idea of banning intra-office email will do nothing to stop Spam or Viruses (Virii?); Time wasting via email probably consumes much less time than time wasting via web-surfing. Nastiness via email can be dealt with the same way nastiness on the phone or at the copy machine.

Several firms have taken different approaches to reduce wasted hours and email-foolery:

– The British retail chain Phones4U Chief Executive John Caudwell banned his staff from using internal e-mail, according to the Financial Times; His rules say you can’t send e-mails to co-workers,but customers and suppliers can still be contacted electronically. All internal communication by e-mail is now banned, whether it’s work-related or not. Instead, staff will have to pick up the phone or wander down the corridor and say what they want to say in person.

– The U.K. unit of the Swiss food giant Nestle SA has introduced an “e-mail- free Friday,” according to ComputerWeekly.com.

– Other companies are firing workers for sending inappropriate e-mail. What started as one of the great innovations of the last decade is fast becoming a monster.

E-mail is like any other office tool: it can be use to enhance productivity or to harm it. Excessive personal phone calls, printing horoscopes, xeroxing your butt at the office Christmas party — all non productive ways to use technology.

Technology and Productivity are inter-related. Their application towards specific uses or misuses is a function of corporate culture — and the establishment of the right environment — than it is inherently in the tool itself.

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